This month picture has been taken in Philippines in February 2015. It is typical of the global approach as for labor market. It is a labor agency ad for employment in Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. There are requests for qualified jobs as for medical staff in Singapore or unqualified jobs as for house maid in Hong Kong. (click here to zoom in). On march 2nd, the ILO released some interviews of migrant workers hired as medical staff in Taiwan, USA, Europe…) (It can be found here).
These documents bring me several comments. First, it is an obvious evidence of the existing market for these migrant workers. It exists only because it matches the need of both the employees and the employers. It is then a positive situation. However, we also have to keep in mind the sacrifices agreed by the workers, especially in terms of being away from the close family (spouse and children). It shows the relationship between employee and employer is not balanced. Thus adequate protection of the employee seems necessary. We also see the roles of intermediaries, as the one seen on the picture. Distance, borders, legal protections… make these intermediaries often necessary even at the time of Internet. But some of these intermediaries ask for fees both on employees and employers leading to a debt situation for the employees. As the relationship is unbalanced, the fees requested are often not actually irelated to the actual costs of the provided service (as the visa costs, the flight cost, administration). The amounts are then depending on what the worker could earn to keep it attractive but not much. The huge fees are then becoming a debt that can’t be reimbursed in the origin country, but only by working in the foreign one.
Thus this global market of labor is both an opportunity for workers but also a threat to their actual freedom of choice. It is indeed very often related to forced or bonded labor. It is actually an important part of the forced labor cases we found during social audits. Thus, although the migration when it’s a will is beneficial, it can quickly become a constraint and forced labor cases which are unacceptable in term of CSR.
We could also point out the consequences on the countries of origin. The medical training of Philippines is partially lost by the country to the benefit of other areas as many trained staff migrate to work in foreign countries. However, it is not related to the working conditions of employees, and then not discussed here.
It is difficult to have a straight opinion on the global labor market. It is both an opportunity and a threat to workers, as well for qualified and unqualified workers. Workers could expect a better salary to the risk increasing the situation of forced labor often without even the awareness of the factories.